NPR Asks: Should People Have Fewer Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?

In a live video segment

National Public Radio explored the topic of whether or not people should have children due to the threat of climate change (the segment in question begins at 7:33).

Their discussion centered around an NPR story about Travis Rieder, a philosophy professor and Assistant Director for Education Initiatives at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, that carried the headline: “Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?”

According to NPR’s account of a recent Rieder lecture, “America and other rich nations produce the most carbon emissions per capita” but people living in “the world’s poorest nations are most likely to suffer severe climate impacts.” Rieder told a room full of college students that “seems unfair.”

“Here’s a provocative thought: maybe we should protect our kids by not having them,” Rieder told the students.

Rieder suggested that wealthy nations like the U.S. should eliminate tax incentives for taxpayers with children and penalize adults for having kids instead. He supports increasing the tax penalty with each additional child born, describing his proposal as a carbon tax on kids.

“The situation is bleak, it’s just dark,” Rieder said, according to NPR. “Population engineering, maybe it’s an extreme move. But it gives us a chance.”

In 2014, Reider described his views on climate change and population control in more detail in a post on the Berman Institute’s website, titled, “Is It Right to Have a Baby When You Could Adopt?”

“First, by making a new person, we inflict that person onto the world. The world is full – it’s full of people, and those people are collectively using too many resources (unequally distributed, of course). So adding a new person contributes to this massive problem. The earth simply cannot sustain a population of 7+ billion people, and so we are in an ‘ecological overshoot,’” he wrote.

Rebecca Kukla, professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, disagrees with Rieder’s idea of a tax penalty. “What that will actually translate into is it becoming much easier for wealthy people to have children than for other people to have children,” she said.

The NPR article also features comments from Josephine Ferorelli and Meghan Kallman, who are the co-founders of Conceivable Future, a group that believes “the climate crisis is a reproductive crisis.”

“We can’t shelter our children from another Katrina, or another Sandy, a Washington mudslide, and we can’t feed them when drought destroys our food supply. We can’t defer reproduction forever as we wait out the next Zika epidemic,” the organization’s official website reads. “Throughout history we have always had to think about what sorts of lives our children would live; that’s what it means to be a parent. This is our time and climate change–and its consequences–is our struggle.”

Rieder’s proposal for a government-imposed tax penalty on couples that have children would be greeted with much opposition from human rights groups and religious organizations that oppose government-imposed rules like China’s two-child policy. China phased out its one-child policy in 2015.

Planned Parenthood, a “nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health services,” is against any government policy that sets limits on the number of children a couple is able to have. Latanya Mapp Frett, the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Global, wrote in a TIME op-ed, “No government and no politician should interfere with the deeply personal decisions women make about whether or when to have children—period. This is true whether the state is trying to limit family size, deny a woman access to birth control, or force her to keep a pregnancy she wishes to end.”


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